I was in second year college when my mom was diagnosed of second stage breast cancer in 2008. I could not express how devastating I was when I received that call, surely I was sad and afraid of what will happen to our future. And of course, of the finances required in order to respond to such problem. I turned off my phone and think for a while.
The next thing I did was research in the internet what a stage two breast cancer is. I looked for the treatment and how fast the recovery of patients will be. I learned that breast cancers are hereditary and at the same time, the easiest type of cancer to treat. This gave me some positive air to breath, but also some caution since it is hereditary. I called my mom after to ask what will be the next steps.
My mom learned of her condition when she felt a lump in her left breast. It was getting bigger each week so we decided to consult a doctor. The doctor instructed us to get a surgery and remove the lump. We followed so my mom underwent a surgery where the lump was removed. The lump was then tested through biopsy for any cancer stages. It was confirmed that my mom has a second stage cancer during this time.
It was never easy dealing with such a thing. My mom was already getting depressed and pessimistic. At this point, she thought of our future – since I am still in college while my younger brother is in highschool. All sorts of fears were imagined.
It was fortunate that we have a relative to help us support the treatment. After getting the lump out, my mom’s left breast was removed completely to stop the spread of the cancer cells. It was both a relief but at the same time depressing to my mom since she felt losing a part of her womanhood. We kept telling her that it is still better than letting herself killed of the sickness. She will just laugh afterwards.
The next step of the treatment is undergoing chemotherapy. My mom needs at least 6 sessions. The number of sessions depend on the stages of cancer that will be diagnosed. Some patients with terminal stages will need to receive more than 6 at around 10 to 12 sessions in a year. This was actually the hardest part of the treatment, both physically and emotionally.
After sessions, my mom would feel dizzy and uncomfortable. She will vomit and complain of headaches. After 2 to 4 sessions, she will begin to lose hair. She cried when her hair fell off. It was here when she decided to shave all the hair that was left and buy a wig instead. She wore a maroon-colored wig with a hair clip. She would just again laugh and cry at the same time at the thought of wearing such things so she could go out in the streets and act normal again.
After the 6 sessions of chemotherapy, she also underwent radiation sessions. I think she had 6, this was still part of killing the remaining cancer cells. She would feel better during this time. Her hair is slowly growing and she would feel more positive in life as she survives each treatment. I will also feel more relieved during this time.
The finance part was never easy. You are fortunate if you have a relative who would voluntarily finance the treatment. One chemo session almost cost around 6,000 to 8,000 pesos. Getting one is never easy. In PGH, we see patients who will line up as early as 3:00 in the morning just to avail the free or the discounted sessions. But getting in line is not yet the hardest part, getting a schedule to get in line is worse.
My mom was declared cancer-free around one and a half year after her first operation. The doctor then prescribed her to come back every 6 months to 1 year for check up and monitoring. Her hair is also fast growing back.
If there is one thing I learned from this experience, it is how to appreciate the little things in between. It is very important to provide care and understanding to cancer patients especially during the hardest part of the treatment. They will lose hope or they will want to die, but as support systems, we must constantly remind them (and ourselves) that this will always be a battle that can be won. Science and experiences have shown that cancers can be treated in varying degrees. Medicine development as well as technology is providing the people the opportunity to lengthen and save lives.
Little things are those laughs and smiles of my mom during her treatment. Little things are also the tap at the back by the doctor, or the moments after every chemo and radiation sessions. Family love, support and care are the most important defense in surviving breast cancer, and these could be shown through the little things.
My mom is now 62 years old, she was 54 years old when diagnosed.
Ms. April Porteria is a program officer at the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) and a MA Philippine Studies student at the UP Asian Center. She enjoys drinking tea while reading or writing political pieces, and also a fan of organic and health-friendly consumer goods.